Suzuki is in a great spot right now, as gas prices creep steadily towards $5 a gallon. Their well equipped SX4 models deliver good fuel economy and an amusing driving experience, all at a remarkably low price.
The Japan-built SX4 arrived last year as a mini crossover, offering the least expensive four-wheel-drive car in America. Now, the SX4 Sport supplements the line as a four-door two-wheel-drive sedan with tall proportions and a generous 15-cubic-foot trunk.
Suzuki is boldly taking on segment leaders, the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, and Mazda 3i. The company claims that their car comes in about $2,000 lower with similar or even better equipment. For example, you get four-wheel disk brakes, and the Suzuki's standard 17-inch wheels beat the other cars' 16-inchers. The Corolla is the only other competitor to supply a no-cost aero body kit.
The SX4 Sport, while hardly a sports car, does provide surprising entertainment. Boasting a chassis that's "fine tuned in Europe" and a .4-inch lower sport suspension with sport shocks and stabilizer bars, it nips around town in a way that inspires quick shifts of the standard five-speed manual transmission. On the freeway, the Sport sails along amazingly quietly, considering its size and price point.
Suzuki likes to offer a full range of standard equipment and a few modestly priced packages to raise the equipment level while maintaining affordability. You don't pay extra for power windows, locks, and mirrors and remote keyless entry. For safety, the four-wheel disk brakes come with antilock and electronic braking distribution. A tire pressure monitoring system keeps you aware of proper tire pressures, which leads to better mileage and longer tire life.
My Quicksilver Metallic test car came with the Convenience Package, which adds a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, cruise control, and automatic air conditioning for $500 on top of its very reasonable price. Little touches like those help prevent a sense of sacrifice at the low end of the market.
A Touring Package is available, which brings in a six-disk CD changer, a nine-speaker, 380-watt audio system, fog lamps, rear spoiler, a keyless entry and start system, and electronic stability control. As a youth-oriented vehicle, the SX4 also can be equipped with a dealer-installed iPod interface, which displays playlists and song information on the car's audio display.
Another factor that helps the little Suzuki is its spaciousness. Without getting into the numbers, the high roof and wide track give you some breathing room. Even rear seat passengers can feel comfortable.
The interior design gives the driver a sporty cockpit feeling with tightly grouped controls and serious looking white-on-black gauges, in a way that evokes certain expensive German vehicles. Surprisingly large and low front quarter windows and a high seating position give you a great view of the road ahead, which provides a sense of being in a larger vehicle than you are actually driving. Aluminum accents along the center console add a touch of flair amidst the plastic.
Suzuki's styling is a little different from the competition, more European in proportion. The headlamp clusters curve upwards and the window line along the sides starts low and angles upwards as it heads rearward, creating surprising drama on such a small canvas. The car looks sharp, alert, and ready to run.
The SX4 features a 143-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. That is larger than the standard 1.8-liter powerplants in the Corolla and Civic. The 2,668-pound car moves along smartly, especially with the shift-it-yourself manual transmission. A four-speed automatic is optional.
EPA mileage numbers are 22 City, 30 Highway, I averaged 26.6 according to the car's mileage computer. EPA Green Vehicle numbers are a 6 for Air Pollution and a 7 for the Greenhouse Gas score. competition, moreTogether, that puts the SX4 into the Smartway category, essentially the EPA's threshold for green recommendation.
So, what is the SX4 Sport lacking? Not much. The trunk must be opened with a key or with the lever inside the car, there's no button on the keyless remote to do it. I also found no hook inside to hang my dry cleaning on. No big deal.
One very appealing feature is Suzuki's standard warranty, which is seven years/100,000 miles, versus five years/60,000 miles, like the competitors from Toyota, Honda and Mazda. And, there is no deductible and it's fully transferable when you sell the car, which helps resale values.
Pricing starts at a low $15,395, including shipping charges. My tester, with the Convenience Package, came to $15,895. That's a lot of car for a modest price.